Attracting & retaining Great employees!Rick Selover
This may not surprise you, but not a single day goes by in my role within this industry, that I’ve been a part of over 40 years, that I don’t hear a shop manager, fixed operation director, independent owner or even dealership principle, voice a complaint, bellyache, dissatisfaction with or feeling of despair, with our auto or collision repair industry.
These complaints vary widely, are described uniquely, with multiple ranges of intensity, spicy language or what I’ll call “enthusiasm” … but all seem to parallel a few very common themes:
- “This industry is going to hell in a handbag” or
- “With all this new technology, these vehicles are just too hard to repair anymore”
- “Them damn insurance companies and their DRPs are controlling this whole industry” or
- “You can’t make money in collision repair these days” … but, by-and-large, the most common complaint or statement that seems to be on the tip of every shop owner’s tongue is:
- “I can’t find any new techs”
- “I can’t replace the techs I have lost, or that are aging out”
- “I don’t know how I can hold onto the techs I have now”
Followed quickly by their opinions that:
- There’s a labor shortage
- Nobody wants to get into the trades anymore
- This younger generation just doesn’t want to work!
Now while these are valid observations of how their world looks, or more importantly “feels” like to them, they are still just their own opinions and opinions don’t make those statements FACTS!
As a matter of FACT, I have dealt with hundreds of shops & shop owners over my career and what I can assure you of is, those opinions or observations are NOT true for everyone.
I will visit with owners that swear “the sky is falling” and these are surely the worst of times… but in the same day, I will visit with other owners that tell me they are absolutely killing it… making more money, realizing greater profits, then they ever have… happy technicians that are banking the largest check they have made in their careers & the shop is more that surviving, they are thriving!
So, how can there be such a great divide???
Great question, right?
There are several reasons for this, and I have my own theories on way… but in its most basic form, it goes right to mindset, which is formed by one’s life experiences, past failures and successes, beliefs in our own abilities (or lack of), willingness to commit to changes we may need to make, and even generational differences.
While being an optimist isn’t mandatory to solve this dilemma, being a bull-headed pessimist & unwilling to try to look for solutions through a little more positive lens, will most certainly prevent you from gaining a more favorable result.
But before we dive into solutions for the problem at hand (finding & retaining technicians), let’s take a minute to dis-spell a few of these less-then-encouraging statements or assumptions.
* This industry is going to hell in a handbag or
* With all this new technology, these vehicles are just too hard to repair anymore
Has the repair industry changed in the last 5 or 10 years?… sure has!
Are today’s vehicles more complicated & technical than ever before?… oh yeah!
Does it require different skillsets than it did 10 years ago?… you bet!
But honestly, show me what other parts of our world has NOT changed in the past 5-10 years?
The rapid and consistent changes in our world, and the technology advances we must face, has been massive & never-ending for ALL of us, but we do adapt, don’t we?
*We don’t rent DVDs from Blockbuster or local video stores and have cable; we now stream what we want to watch through Netflix.
*We no longer write checks & mail in our bills; we pay bills & utilities online.
*We no longer take taxis to the airport; we have Uber or Lyft pick us up and drop us off for that & many other events.
*We order take out from Grub Hub and DoorDash.
*We have Instacart and Shipt do our grocery shopping and deliver to our door…
*We schedule all of our medical appointments online through an app.
*Our banking no longer requires physical visits.
The list goes on and on.
Today’s vehicles have had great advances in technology as well… occupant safety, functionality, crash avoidance, reliability and self-diagnostics. Most all vehicles now have built-in software that will help tell us with a quick scan what areas of concern still need to be addressed.
There are widely accessible written procedures, with step-by-step instructions, to help us perform most all needed repairs, the way the auto maker intended them to be done… you can even watch videos on how to do many repairs by just searching YouTube!… going to Hell in a handbag?… I don’t think so Tim!
*The insurance companies & their DRPs are controlling this industry*
Insurance companies write the auto policies and pay most (if not all) of the repairs, that much is true… but if they truly “controlled” the industry, how do you explain the fact that there are many professional shops, that make very good profits on repairs, charge for everything they need to do to repair vehicles correctly, are able to articulate this to the insurance companies, back-up with documentation & get paid… while other shops don’t follow these steps, don’t bill for everything done, accept what the insurance tells them they won’t pay for, and end up with less profitable repairs?
If the insurance companies had “control”, wouldn’t everyone be less profitable doing the exact same work?
Remember, nobody is holding a gun to your head making you sign-up for those DRPs & agree to do certain procedures that they tell you up-front, they do NOT pay for!
That is ALWAYS your choice!
*You just can’t make money in this trade anymore*
Today’s vehicles have more repair procedures, more non-included items, more access to written instructions & OEM repair procedures, then anytime in collision repair history, and due to fear of the liability & being dragged into court, insurance has been covering more procedures than ever before.
Average RO values have risen sharply over the past 5 years, most shops have been very busy with multiple week or month back-logs… you absolutely CAN and many ARE making more money than ever!
Now some of you may not fully agree with all of my observations that dispel those common, bogus assumptions (and that’s ok) … these are the things I see every day in our industry!
But in dispelling the most common gripe, our industry’s #1 complaint:
“You can’t find any new or replacement techs anymore” … I will need to go a little deeper.
This week, I will give you 4 Tips on how to attract new techs to your shop and retain the great employees you already have, but I will warn you upfront… this will not be easy, it will require some work on your end, and you may not be able to implement the things I lay out in these 4 tips, because you may get stuck on Tip #1… just being honest here. OK?… ok, let’s go!
#1– Check your big EGO at the door –
Yep, you heard me right, check your big ego at the front door before you enter your shop.
“But I don’t have a big ego” you say…. Really?… try asking someone close to you, maybe a friend or family member, or somebody that works for you that you know can be honest & tell you the truth.
Most shop owners (not all) have varying degrees of ego, from barely noticeable to completely unbearable.
Your unchecked ego costs you right now & will continue to cost you each day, in more ways than you can imagine.
Your unchecked ego can tell everyone in your business that you are “THE BOSS”, you are the “BIG CHEESE” … that nobody is more important than you.
Your ego tells everyone in your employ that it’s all about you… don’t forget whose name is on the building… this is MY shop, MY business I built and w/o me, you people wouldn’t have a job!
Your big ego can dis-empower your team to make decisions, voice new ideas, suggest improvements or better ways to do things. Your unchecked ego usually de-motivates your team & can cause them to be less productive.
If you want to hold onto the crew that you have, and be the kind of leader others would WANT to work for, you need to check your ego at the door before you step into the shop.
Being more humble is not a sign of weakness, being on the floor and working shoulder to shoulder with your techs on something, or grabbing the broom to sweep up, cleaning the bathroom or lunchroom doesn’t make you any less of a leader. Asking for input from your team on equipment selection before making final decisions, stall space reorganizing for better production… having daily release meetings that allow open discussions, or even something as simple as asking your technicians what style of communications works best for them, can make them feel like they’re appreciated members of your team, not soldiers in your unit, taking orders and afraid to make a mistake & be stripped of their rank.
Being a “servant-leader” means not acting like, or expecting to be treated like, you are better than, or superior to, your employees… having an atmosphere that allows those that work for you, to feel safe enough to have honest conversations with you, discuss concerns within the shop that could be improved, or be able to tell you they don’t understand something or need help, without fearing backlash or retribution. Understanding you may have an oversized ego, and taking steps to minimize its effects on your team, can make a massive shift in the spirit of your shop & make it a more desirable place to work!
#2 – Design your shop to attract new techs –
This may sound simple & self-explanatory, or you may take this as “holy crap, I have to re-do my whole shop?” … well, it’s neither. What this means is, your shop was designed consciously (on purpose-like it’s designed to resemble a NASCAR garage), subconsciously (ended up like what you imagined in your mind’s eye for years),
or unconsciously (that’s just where they dropped off the frame rack & air compressor?), your shop was, to a degree, designed… good or bad, clean or messy, but ultimately desirable or undesirable to those that work there and any future prospects.
You will definitely need an outside opinion on your shop to assess this, have someone from another profession, a manufacturers or vendor rep or heck, you can even contact me for help… but get opinions from others outside your shop to let you know what turns them off to your place of business… ask them specifically what areas need attention?
These days there are many shops that are clean, organized, well-lit, climate-controlled, comfortable
places, with clean, modern office areas, modern tools, equipment and somewhere to take a break or lunch, that is not dirty, noisy and smells like plastic filler!
There are some that rival banks, coffee shops or medical facility offices!
Any techs that you wish to gain as new employees, have lots of options when they decide to make a change… if you don’t have most of these concerns addressed, your shop (regardless of amount of work or pay scale) will NOT make the list of final considerations.
It won’t take a major investment to make most of these changes, but it WILL take some investments in time, effort and money, to make your shop a more desirable facility to work in… remember, technicians will spend a good portion of their lives in your shop, in fact more time than they spend in their own homes, so if your not willing to put in the effort to make it a better place to be, you will find it very difficult to attract new employees, and increasingly tough to hang on to the ones you already have!
But this actually goes on beyond simple aesthetics of your shop, this also means to create a friendly team atmosphere within those cleaner, brighter walls.
Employees want to feel like they belong, like they are wanted there, like part of a family, part of a team… to be celebrated and to know others have their backs.
This costs Zero dollars, but does cost some emotional investments, to actually care about your employees… but it doesn’t take much.
Little things like Taco Tuesday or BBQ grilling on select Fridays, celebrating birthdays with cake, ice cream & lunch for the crew… Team Member of the Month recognition, hosting a cruise in night or car shows on your lot & inviting all your employees, or hundreds of other ways to keep everyone engaged and excited to be working there!
These changes made here, whether large or small, can have the greatest impact on the desirability of your shop, and your ability to not only attract new team members, but keep your loyal existing techs happy to keep showing up!
#3– Train & invest in your people –
One thing I’ve learned is certain over the years, is that humans are born to constantly grow, learn new skills & abilities, and gain knowledge. I have experienced this myself… when I’m learning something new or overcoming a new challenge, is when I feel most alive and my self-worth, and self-esteem are at there highest. Your technicians are no different, while you may not realize it, or turn a blind eye, when they’re working 40-50 hrs a week, month after month, year after year and NOT getting any additional training or education, their self-worth, motivation and satisfaction with their work (and their life), is slowly declining.
In simple terms, you’re either climbing up or you’re sliding down the mountain of life… there is no middle ground.
Setting up a consistent training schedule is not difficult, and there are a variety of resources right at your fingertips every week… but you just don’t see it, nor take advantage of it.
You can have your own internal training sessions on better process improvements in the shop, or your vendors & suppliers can provide in-house training events for your team, or lunch-n-learns with an abrasive supplier, plastic welder demo, paint manufacturer review of some new products, welding certifications, job-costing overview for the paint department, 5S training, blueprinting… the list goes on & on.
There are multiple resources available at the shop level, but it’s also highly recommended to sent your techs out to a paint training center or frame measuring class on occasion. Cover the cost of training and lodging for them to be out of town, it’s not a “free” day off your paying for, it’s an investment in your business to have the best trained technicians, doing repairs correctly & efficiently.
Sometimes the best tips and strategies come from the other techs they are around during those off-site training events, and being away from the shop allows them to stay focused on what is being taught without disruptions.
I’m sure you’ve heard this quote before, but it’s absolutely true: “What if I invest in training my people & they leave?” …. well, what if you DON’T and they stay?
#4- Celebrate/ promote & love your crew –
This is simple and once again, won’t really cost you anything but some attention & emotional investment in your greatest assets… YOUR PEOPLE!
Celebrate the small victories and milestones your employees hit, or even some major difficulties they have overcome. Like a tech that has turned in a record week hours-wise, perfect attendance for 3 months, completed his/her first ADAS calibration job or work anniversary… make a big deal of it, involve the whole crew, announce it on your Facebook page, or post it in the front office as well as in the production area.
They would never tell you to your face, but I have never met anyone that didn’t like being celebrated for something!
Don’t be afraid to promote any employee up the ladder, or to a more difficult job responsibility… people are designed to grow and improve, so allow that in your business. If you have a great porter, don’t keep him/her in that role forever because their “a great porter” advance them up to a new, more important and better paying position, the hire another porter that will grow to be a new great porter.
Younger workers crave a career path, they want to know where they start, what it leads to next & ultimately where could they grow into?
Don’t be afraid to get creative with titles either, it’s your shop, you can have any title you please in your crew… instead of porter, try “Transportation Manager” or “Maintenance Supervisor” instead of painter’s helper, how about “Assistant Refinish Technician”. Instead of CSR, how about “Customer Experience Facilitator”
Whatever… you get the idea, have some fun with it… I guaranty your employees will feel even better about their positions, and about where they work!
I know this last thing may make you feel a little uncomfortable, and you may think the whole subject is a little too touchy-feely, but don’t be too stuck in your head or your own overblown ego, to think you can’t throw a little love on your people.
Human’s have 6 basic needs, one of which is to be loved by others… that doesn’t mean physical love (let’s keep the HR Dept. out of this), but I mean that simple feeling that someone actually cares about you, is there for you & ultimately wants you to be happy. I’ve experienced this in several jobs over my career, had great jobs that I stayed at even during tougher times, because I knew my boss really cared about me, had interest in my and other employee’s lives and was not afraid to throw a little love on his crew… and that made it easy to get up each morning & be happy to go back into work another day!
As you can see, it’s not some magical wand you wave, being the highest paying shop in your market, or having a specially built building that causes great techs to flock to one shop or the other, it just takes an owner that cares enough to implement these tips to attract & retain great employees. Someone that is not too proud to admit he/she may need to make some serious adjustments and change the atmosphere in their own business to become a more desirable place to work.
Just follow these 4 simple tips,
- Lose your ego -without putting your ego in check, nothing else you do matters
- Create a desirable shop – make your shop truly a great place to work
- Train & invest in your people – don’t be afraid to invest in your best assets
- Celebrate/ promote & love your crew- employees tend to stay where they feel wanted, valued, and have a clear career path
Do these 4 things & you won’t have to worry about the “labor shortage” like all your competitors! – RS